Technological advancements are changing the healthcare landscape in a myriad of ways from robotics to smart sensors, wearables, ingestible sensors to mobile apps and much more. However, the prolific amount of data that is getting generated is also paving way for security concerns. Also, the disparate nature of the data collection in the healthcare sector isn’t helping the cause either. According to a global study, the cost of frauds in the healthcare domain in 2.5 times higher than the global average of other industries. Some of the challenges that the healthcare industry are –
- Lack of secured infrastructure to allow for interoperability of data.
- Limited access to PHI (Protected Health Information) limiting efficiency and progress of research.
- Privacy and security of patient data.
To overcome these challenges experts are looking forward to technologies like blockchain. Blockchain which was until recently associated with cryptocurrency and the financial sector is finding applicability beyond that. Blockchain technology is primarily a distributed ledger system which stores information in the form of a distributed ledger and can be accessed with a key, this makes the data secure and immutable.
As predicted by BCG, healthcare experts are looking forward to the blockchain technology to:
- Bring in new capabilities and disrupt the present approaches to patient care and healthcare services.
- Speed up and improve R&D, care delivery, and care management, and to reduce costs.
How blockchain technology can reshape the healthcare sector:
Healthcare sector is exploring the blockchain technology in various ways to create a more secure and efficient ecosystem. Here’s how:
Solving for Interoperability of data
Blockchain can help in creating a data management system where patient data and health data can be coupled together in a secured system due to its distributed and immutable qualities. According to IDC:
‘’Blockchain’s interoperability could underpin data exchange, serving as an alternative to today’s health information exchanges (HIEs); essentially, it would act as a network for transmitting secure, real-time patient data for healthcare providers, including the pharmacies, insurance enterprises, and clinical researchers.’’
Secured healthcare Supply Chain
Blockchain transactions are recorded in a chronological, immutable, secured ledger which can help healthcare vendors in pharma and medtech enterprises track the journey of raw materials, compounds, or components at every step of the supply chain, from the original source to the patient. One such example is the MediLedger Project, backed by pharma giants like Genentech and Pfizer, which uses blockchain tools to track medicines.
Similarly, Modum.io combines sensors and blockchain technology to monitor products requiring cold-chain handling to improve pharma supply-chain efficiency.
Giving patients control of their data
Since a blockchain ledger requires a key to access every distribute ledger, it can help patients take control of their data. Every transaction recorded on blockchain ledger can enable patients to have an eye on anyone who has access to their data from the physician to HIE (Health Information Exchange) to the medical device, insurer, etc.
In the same lines Google’s DeepMind, is working with Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) on developing a blockchain distributed system which enables the NHS and also patients to track personal data access and use in real time.
Similarly, MIT Media Lab has developed MedRec, which is a decentralized record management system for EMRs (Electronic Medical Records) that uses blockchain technology to manage authentication, confidentiality, accountability, and data sharing.
GDPR and HIPAA Compliance
According to FDA for electronic data exchange -’ 21 CFR Part 1’1 needs to be followed. Similarly, it is a mandate for healthcare enterprises to be HIPAA compliant in the U.S. and GDPR compliant while dealing with EU patients. when it comes to dealing with patients based out of Europe. Blockchain ’s secure and immutable environment which is auditable and security friendly.
Smart contracts and automation
Blockchain enabled ‘Smart contracts’ (scripts that self-execute based on predetermined rules) can help in creating an automated process of creating contracts which are error free. These smart contracts can integrate the process between patients, healthcare provider, and insurance agencies due to standardization of the transaction data between all the parties.
Data standardization and maintaining the hygiene of the data set is one of the major requirements of R&D in healthcare. Blockchain technology can help in automating, validating, ensuring the adherence to trial protocols by pharma and medtech companies in the data sets. Blockchain technology can also help in ensuring error-free and standardized infrastructure for data collection. The clinical data gathered will be reliable and verified.
Academic institutions like MIT are exploring the possibilities of blockchain technology in this area. They are developing the OPAL/Enigma platform, which enables parties to jointly store and analyze data with complete privacy.
While the healthcare domain is still in the nascent stage when it comes to leveraging the benefits of the blockchain technology. However, the sector seems to be optimistic about the potential blockchain can have in optimizing and making processes more efficient. Exactly why, it is predicted that by 2025, blockchain in healthcare will grow over $5.61 billion and researchers project that 55 percent of healthcare applications will have adopted blockchain for commercial deployment. With the healthcare being one of the major sectors to adopt technological innovations a blockchain enabled future for healthcare isn’t far away.